By Lauren Jurgemeyer
Assistant Web Content Manager
The Importance of Being Earnest, written by Oscar Wilde, opens at Texas State in the Theatre Center Mainstage on April 9-14.
Under the direction of Jerry Ruiz, Wilde’s classic play is given a fresh take. The witty English humor and physical comedy takes shape and presents Victorian-era elegance with a modern flare. The flowery language and flirtatious nature of the show gives rise to an intimate, immersive experience as the audience surrounds the stage on all four sides.
Maura Gill plays Gwendolen Fairfax, one of the love interests of the play. Gill said the desire to love is a major theme of the show and allows the audience to further relate to the characters.
“Although the show is very dramatic and the circumstances seem silly, I think we can all relate to the core human desires that drive all of these characters,” Gill said.
Premiering originally in 1895, Wilde’s farce follows the story of two men who use fictitious personas to escape from the social standards of the Victorian era. The show is full of dramatic, romantic proposals that are only thwarted by the womens’ claim that they must marry a man named Ernest. The comedy follows a common structure, often seen in Shakespearean comedies, of misunderstandings and mistaken identities.
John “Jack” Worthing, played by Malik James, and Algernon Moncrieff, played by Will Wilkerson, are the two male leads of the show. These two characters, while considered protagonists, often act as their own antagonist. The pair play friends who are more like brothers with their constant bickering.
John and Algernon’s love interests are Gwendolen Fairfax (Gill) and Cecily Cardew, played by Marisa Mendoza. Gill said Fairfax is a character who knows exactly what she wants and refuses to have anyone get in the way of it. Both Gwendolen and Cecily refuse to marry unless the man is named Ernest, which causes most of the melodramatic humor of the play. Gill and Mendoza play off each other, offering the audience a hysterical caricature of a woman’s friendship.
“When I first read the script, Cecily reminded me of Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series,” Mendoza said. “At other times, she reminded me of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
Gwendolen’s mother, Lady Bracknell, played by Kaycee Swierc, is the personification of Victorian ideals. Swierc’s character is similar to her daughter in the fact that they are both calculated and know exactly what they want. Lady Bracknell can easily be compared to Jane Austen’s Mrs. Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice.”
“There’s a trap of just making her outlandish and crazy when she is a very smart woman who knows exactly what she wants,” Swierc said on the topic of how she approached her character.
More minor characters like Reverend Canon Chasuble, played by Jacob Burns, and Miss Prism, played by Willa Fossum, bring a quirky humor to the show. Both characters are pillars of chastity and morality, and watching their unconventional relationship blossom adds to the humor of the show.
A standout is William Hoss Abete who plays both Lane and Merriman, the butlers to John and Algernon. Whether he is playing the stuffy deadpan servant in Algernon’s house or Merriman, the goofy manservant who aims to please in John’s estate, Abete steals whatever scene he is in.
The scenic design by Gary Thornsberry reflects the elegance of the Victorian era perfectly. The set pieces offer deep colors of yellows, reds, and blues that offer an element of regality to the stage. Flowers enclose the audience, bringing them into the play’s world which only adds to the refinement and grandeur of the show.
Monica Pasut-Gibson designed the costumes which dance the line between past and present. She said she drew inspiration from Victorian era inspired high-fashion runway style and the modern English royal family. Pasut-Gibson’s inspirations translate very clearly on stage.
“Class and status are important in this piece, so that informs everything from how they walk to the fit of garment to the fabric choices,” Pasut-Gibson said.
Ruiz’s directing makes it so there is no bad seat in the house. While Oscar Wilde’s works are celebrated, his wit and humor tends to fall flat with modern audiences. This is not the case for the Texas State production as the show will please and excite any member of the audience.
“Comedy lives forever,” Swierc said. “No matter when it was written.”
Tickets are available online, by phone at (512) 245-6500 and at the box office an hour prior to the show.
Featured image by Lauren Jurgemeyer.
Video by Lauren Jurgemeyer and Raven Correa